Concerns when curating an Image Collection

Curating an image collection presents its own concerns and challenges. Where photos for a collection are sourced can bring up problems, especially around ownership to images and rights to their distribution. Copyright law aside, there are ethical considerations when sourcing images. Especially when images are drawn from private collections. If the photographer is no longer alive to give their permission, like in Finding Vivian Maier, is it acceptable to bring their work into the public domain? This may be an extreme example, but it nonetheless highlights numerous issues around ethics in relation to presentation of image collection, and the attachment of information to the images. Particularly in the digital age when information can be distributed quickly and cheaply to a large audience. The internet provides numerous platforms that can host image collections, with its own set of issues. The photographs taken by Vivian Maier were purchased in an auction by Maloof who scanned them and published them online alongside his blog via popular website ’Flickr’ in August 2009– allowing them to be viewed by a large audience. Though the image collection in this example was largely ‘discovered’ in the form of negatives, physical exhibition required the collection of prints which were sold for monetary gain

Collections of images have to source their material somewhere. The purpose of the collection largely dictates where photos are sourced from and how they are presented. An amateur historian, Maloof bought 30,000 negatives at an auction – later purchasing more from others who had bought them originally. The images in question were mainly taken around New York, and Chicago over a womans lifetime as she worked as a nanny for numerous Chicago families and photographing daily. “Taking snapshots into the late 1990′s, Maier would leave behind a body of work comprising over 100,000 negatives. Additionally Vivian’s passion for documenting extended to a series of homemade documentary films and audio recordings.” (“About Vivian Maier”, Maloof Collections) This provided archival material, original negatives showcasing her natural talent which were previously unpublished and undocumented. The controversy over this collection of images encompasses privacy issues, and it is worth bearing in mind that Vivian Maier had no input in how the work was framed. How images are framed and presented in an image collection affects how they are perceived and consumed by an audience.

Curation of images requires further categorisation and the attachment of information to photos to contextualise them. Largely unknown in her own lifetime, Vivian Maier’s “discovery” began with this collection of images curated by John Maloof being published online, and later being exhibited first in New York and then internationally. She was an enigmatic and elusive character who literally made efforts to hide her work from others, and framing her work in this context gave it mystery and intrigue which was picked up on by various magazine and newspaper articles that brought her to public attention. The ‘public eye‘  has always been a powerful force, with the internet consumer interaction has changed – seeing an increased input into the process which the consumer is interacting with. Maloof attracted a lot of attention and began digging in to her history and this became a big part of the exhibition of her work. Crowdsourcing was used to source funding via popular website Kickstarter and a documentary was made, interviewing the children she used to nanny. His efforts received a lot of media attention, with articles being written about Vivian Maier who became a phenonomon. “Maloof has edited a book of her work, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, which was published in November, and has raised money for a documentary film about her that is in the works.” (Zax, December 2011) The issue here at hand is the invasive searching for information about Maier resulting in scrutiny of the artist’s life as well as here work. Some controversy was generated by the recording of interviews of many surviving people who knew Vivian Maier during her life, building an interesting picture but also implying mental illness and a darker side to her character. Ethics and the attachment of context and information to images are concerns when curating an image collection – largely in the hands of the collectors and the gallery, but now becoming more complex in the age of information.



Works Cited

Maloof, John,, et al. Finding Vivian Maier. Widescreen. Sundance Selects, 2014.

Vivian Maier. 2016 Maloof Collections. Web. Date of Access 18 Nov. 2016.

Maier, Vivian. Self Portrait. Digital image. Vivian Maier. Maloof Collections, Nov. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2016. <>.

Zax, David. “Vivian Maier: The Unheralded Street Photographer”Smithsonian Magzine. December 2011. Web. Date of Access: 18 Nov. 2016.